Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 26/2021 – June 28 – July 11

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the weeks of June 28 – July 4 and July 5-11. An unusual string of arrests took place within a two-week period. The arrested were: activist Le Dung Vova, who had been evading police for nearly a month; activist Do Nam Trung, who served a 14-month sentence back in 2014; three Facebookers who are relatively unknown to human rights watchers; and the leaders of two NGOs which have never had any run-in with authorities before. Meanwhile, COVID-19 intensifies in Vietnam, triggering a 15-day total lockdown of the country’s economic hub, causing panic buying and other economic disruptions. Facebook has begun fighting back against the state-run online army known as Force 47.



Political Prisoners

Le Dung Vova

Le Dung Vova was apprehended at the home of a relative along with two other people.

Do Nam Trung. Source: RFA Vietnamese

He has been on the run since authorities issued a warrant for his arrest last month. Do Nam Trung was arrested while on his way to work. The police took his keys and entered his home without his consent while his partner was still sleeping.

Three relatively unknown Facebookers, Bach Van Hien, Bui Thanh Tuyen, and Le Trung Thu, were arrested and charged with “anti-state propaganda” in Quang Ngai Province. In a bizarre twist, two directors of two NGOs based in Hanoi were arrested in Hanoi for “tax evasion,” which is raising many red flags. You can read more about their unusual case as well as the other arrests in our analytical piece here.


Bach Van Hien, Le Trung Thu va Phung Thanh Tuyen. Source: Bao Quang Ngai













Novelist Pham Thanh, real name Pham Chi Thanh, 69, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. He wrote a book that was deemed critical of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. His family was not allowed to attend the “open trial” on July 9 in Hanoi.

Can Thi Theu

Can Thi Theu’s daughter, Trinh Thi Thao, reported that her mother has been put in solitary confinement under harsh summer conditions in a Hanoi prison. Her request to send her Mom an electric fan was denied by prison officials. Theu asked to see a lawyer but her request was ignored. Thao also tried to visit her brother Trinh Ba Phuong, but she was not allowed to see him.

Nguyen Van Hoa’s sister said her brother was shackled and put in solitary confinement from June 26 until July 01. Hoa had gone on a hunger strike for five days to protest. She alleged that prison authorities wanted to punish Hoa for the 11 petitions that he sent out to complain about  ill-treatment and violations by prison staff.

Online commentator Tran Trong Khai was released on June 11, 2021, upon completion of his one year sentence. Khai is believed to have been the moderator (along with Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong) of the Facebook group named Bàn luận Kinh tế-Chính trị (Economic-Political Discussion) which has 46,000 followers.


Activists at Risk

The remaining member of the Clean News group, Le The Thang, has been charged under Article 331 for “abusing democratic freedoms.” No arrest was made. The other members of the group have been detained for months. Thang is a photographer and filmmaker, and was a vocal advocate for Ho Duy Hai, the death row inmate who was convicted for murder without a fair trial.

The Kampuchea-Krom Federation launched a complaint against Vietnamese police for unlawfully detaining two Khmer-Krom men in Tra Vinh right before the 76th anniversary of the UN Charter. One man had his booklets of international human rights documents confiscated. The other was detained and interrogated for simply wearing a shirt with a SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) logo.


International Advocacy

Mai Phan Loi. Source: VietnamNews

Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of Mai Phan Loi on what Daniel Bastard, head of the RSF Asia-Pacific desk, calls a “trumped-up charge” and “a pretext to silence a journalist who tried to do his job to inform his fellow citizens properly.”

Human Rights Watch is calling for the release of novelist Pham Chi Thanh, who has just been sentenced to five and a half years in prison for his writings. “Pham Chi Thanh is among a long list of Vietnamese dissidents prosecuted for nothing more than their written words,” said John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch.


Coming up

This week we remember the following political prisoners on their birthday, arrest and trial anniversaries: 

  • Human rights activist Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, birthday July 14, arrested July 7, 2018, currently serving 10 years in prison for “subversion”
  • Facebooker Tran Long Phi, arrested July 7, 2018, currently serving eight years in prison for “subversion”
  • Journalist Le Anh Hung, arrested July 5, 2018, still in pre-trial detention three years after his arrest under the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” 
  • Religious freedom practitioner Y Lao Mlo, arrested July 15, 2015, currently serving eight years in prison for “undermining the unity policy” 
  • Religious freedom practitioner Rmah Hlach, arrested July 2009, currently serving 12 years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Democracy activist Nguyen Trung Linh, tried July 2020, currently serving 12 years in prison for “propaganda against the state”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Duc Quoc Vuong, tried July 7, 2020, currently serving eight years in prison for “propaganda against the state”


Vietnam Q2 GDP growth quickens, but COVID-19 outbreak raises risks, Khanh Vu, Reuters, June 29, 2021: “Vietnam has been one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia through the pandemic, though after successfully containing the virus for most of last year it is grappling with a rise in infections since April. The GSO said the outbreak is posing a threat to Vietnam’s recovery, while some analysts warned that efforts to control the virus are already taking an economic toll. ‘With sporadic outbreaks continuing, the economy is likely to suffer further in the months ahead,’ Capital Economics said in a note.”

Panic-buying as Vietnam announces broad COVID-19 curbs in biggest city, Reuters, July 7, 2021: “Vietnam will impose tight movement restrictions in its commercial hub Ho Chi Minh city from the end of the week to tackle a coronavirus outbreak, its health ministry said on Wednesday, in some of its strictest curbs yet. The measures effective for 15 days from Friday include a stay-home order, a ban on more than two people gathering and a closure of public transport services, the ministry said. … The measures were widely anticipated, with panic-buying seen around the city of 9 million people, the epicentre of the latest outbreak. State media reported unrest at a city jail where dozens of inmates were infected. The health ministry on Wednesday said outbound travellers from the city would be subjected to a week of quarantine and testing at their destinations, a day after dozens of flights were suspended to control the spread.”

How Vietnam’s ‘influencer’ army wages information warfare on Facebook, James Pearson, Reuters, July 9, 2021: “Force 47 has since its inception in 2016 set up hundreds of Facebook groups and pages, and published thousands of pro-government articles and posts. Social media researchers say the group may be the largest and most sophisticated influence network in Southeast Asia. And it is now playing a prominent role in the country’s intensifying conflict with Facebook. After being approached by Reuters this week, a Facebook source said the company had removed a group called “E47”, which had mobilised both military and non-military members to report posts they did not like to Facebook in an effort to have them taken down.”


Please take the urgent action from Front Line Defenders about Can Thi Theu and her family, who have tried to help land grab victims seek justice for years. You can also watch and share our 2019 interview with Theu and share information about her current situation in prison on social media.


© 2021 The 88 Project